Chapter 3:

"The Cagayake Girls"


THE NIGHT BEFORE. We now return to the perspective of SAITO “FUUMI” FUMI who serves as BUCHOU of the HISTORICAL RESEARCH CLUB with only THREE DAYS UNTIL THE FESTIVAL.

As usual, the Historical Research Club meets after school at Ivan Sushi, a Russian restaurant down in San-Machi on the lowest layer of the island. I’m not sure what Ivan means in Russian - perhaps something majestic, like the rolling steppe or a frozen sea. Usually, we go after club gets out in the afternoon, but preparing for the culture festival took all day, so it was already dark by the time we got here.

Sitting at a dim table illuminated only by a red paper lantern hanging overhead, I have an expensive looking set of Shikishima sushi before me - the rice was grown in Hokkaido, while fishermen from our island caught the salmon. It's all a bit pricey, but I’ve been advised by our club’s treasurer that we can use our culture festival funds for things like this. I’ll take her word for it.

After eating the first thing of sushi, I let out the obligatory, “Oishi!” This earns the attention of the girl sitting across from me.

“We need a gimmick,” Mizushima realizes, adjusting her thick-rimmed glasses.

Michi, sitting next to me, tilts her head. “Gimmick?”

Mizushima points her chopsticks at her. I want to say she doesn’t realize it’s rude, but it’s more likely she doesn’t care (on the other hand, I know for a fact that Michi doesn’t realize it’s rude). “Yeah, we need something special or quirky about us. Otherwise, we face total destruction.”

“No, what does ‘gimmick’ mean?”

“Ah,” Mizushima says, clearly relishing the (rare) chance to showcase her superior knowledge to someone. “It’s actually quite simple, Imouto-san…”

The HRC has had its ups and downs during the Saito Fumi presidency, which has now entered its seventh month. Fortunately, we managed to hit the four-member minimum thanks to my three recruits:

First is Mizushima, who sucks. Her dark hair is pulled back tight in a ponytail and her pasty skin indicates a lifetime spent indoors. She joined the HRC because, unlike the History Club, we had multiple spots open on our executive committee.

Second is Michi, my little sister. I say little not because of her height (she stands a foot taller than me), but because she’s a year younger. She joined the HRC because, unlike the History Club, this is the club I’m in.

Third is someone not present at the table. I’d rather not talk about her since she scares me.

In any case, while we may have staved off being eliminated by default thanks to Mizushima, Michi, and she who must not be named, we’re not out of the woods quite yet. Due to budget cuts, the high school is consolidating all of the history clubs into one. The surviving club will be determined in a trivia competition at the culture festival.

To be blunt - the situation is enough to make me piss my pants, if not shit them entirely.

“Since we face little chance against the History Club’s star student,” Mizushima continues, “We need to ensure our survival through other methods. We need to bring something to Shikishima that forces them to keep us independent. Enter said gimmick. We’re a bunch of anime girls, right?”

Michi nods vigorously.

I prop my head up on my elbow. “We’re Japanese, genius.”

“Art imitates real life, and real life intimates art. The borders between reality and pop culture are nonexistent.” Mizushima now raises a finger. “If we can turn ourselves into some sort of internet sensation, some sort of anime girl thing with its own particular gimmick, we could become popular enough to avoid being merged into the History Club. Now think! We got girls in bands - twice, even! Camping girls, countryside girls, girls who stayed back a year in school. Now think harder! What do stories about anime girls all have common?”

Michi gasps. “Sexualization of minors!”


“No,” I cut in. “Hot as this body may be, it’s not up for sale. And don’t use that word, Michi, you’re too young for things like that.”

“Then let’s not be hot, let’s be cute. Cute girls doing history.” Mizushima stands up. “The gimmick makes things easy. A chapter explaining how to camp. A chapter explaining different guitars. It’s a natural conversation and dare I say it, page turner. For example, for our history gimmick-”

Mizushima bounds over to Michi on the other side of the table and mimics your stereotypical genki girl, which is tough for somebody with such a deep voice.

“Michi-chan!” Mizushima tilts her head. “Ah, what’s that? You’re reading a book? Nani nani? What’s the book about?”

Michi fakes a nervous smile and picks out a book from her bag. “Ehehe…eto, it’s about the Philippine-American War.”

“...right. I mean, sugoi! Oishi! Uh…got any fun history facts that can start a conversation and fill an entire chapter?”

Michi nods and gives a shy little smile. “Two hundred thousand civilians died in American concentration camps.”

Mizushima opens her mouth, but says nothing and stops the act. She returns her seat and, after a moment, slumps down so only her head is visible above the table. “This is effing hopeless…”

“Now don’t say that,” Michi gently chides. “There’s always hope. I’m sure Nee-san has an idea to get us out of it.”

“I did,” I say glumly. I let out a long sigh. “My idea was to study and win the trivia contest outright. I didn’t expect that the History Club would have a ringer on their side.”

Said ringer is Yasuda Junko, aka Yasuda “the Wrath” Junko. Half-Russian, half-Japanese, her parents are important shareholders in the Nakashima conglomerate who sent her to study history in middle school at the Ecole d’Humanite. Not only does she have an innate understanding of mainstream, Marxist, Whig, and Gnostic interpretations of history, she plays the flute and can make a five-minute instant mac-n-cheese in four.

Four minutes!

Michi notices my plight and pats me on the shoulder. She always knows how to make me feel better, at least.

“Well, we got Mizushima’s internet idea, and we got my studying idea,” I say. “What about you, Michi?”

Michi stands and crosses her arms and smiles in that goofy way that’s very particular to her. “Sure, we may be outgunned and against the wall, but there’s still a way out.”

I won’t lie - her enthusiasm is getting to me. I lean in close, because Michi’s such a good sister and a beacon of positivity. Mizushima leans in close as well.

Michi spreads her arms wide says the next thing like it’s the most obvious thing in the world.

“We just need to find the Jade Magatama!”

Mizushima and I immediately deflate.

“Was it something I said?” Michi asks, puzzled by our reactions.

“The Jade Magatama is a myth,” I answer, resting my head on my palm again.

“We live in a giant man-made city floating in the Pacific Ocean,” Michi answers. “And you think the Jade Magatama is unrealistic?”

I cross my arms. “Shikishima was built during the Bubble. You could do anything during the Bubble. Heck, you could do anything in the Eighties!”

“Shikishima is powered by a cold fusion reactor,” Mizushima reasons, adding to my defense. “Not by the Jade Magatama.”

Michi spreads her arms wide. “Have you ever seen the reactor? That’s what they say, but we have no proof.”

While I shake my head, Mizushima scratches her own. “So you think some sort of jewel fuels Shikishima with the power of dreams?” She then ponders that for a moment longer.

“...Imouto-san, you could be on to something-”

“Are you guys serious?” I cut in. “Dreams aren’t real. They can’t power a city.”

“Anything is possible, Nee-san!”

“If anything is possible, then give us a way to save the club.”

“But I just did.”

Mizushima gasps. “Wait, no, I got it. I got another idea!”

“ no Jade Magatama?” Michi mumbles, sitting down in defeat. This time, I rub her shoulder for support.

“Yes, and this idea isn’t actually half-bad, and is perhaps even half-full,” Mizushima declares. She looks at the empty seat at our table. “We just need our ghost member to come back. She’s our ringer.”

Said ghost member is Mizutami Sumiko, aka one-half of the Mizutami twins. Hailing from the undercity in San-Machi and tough as nails, on the first day of club, she showed up, said she was a member, and left. She hasn't been back since, but I gladly put her name down because it kept us safe from being dissolved and because she could very easily twist me into a pretzel. But the rumor mill says her intellect is just as tough as her fists, that she studies history and philosophy alongside martial arts.

“That’s not bad,” I realize, and then I also realize a corollary. “Thank you for volunteering to talk to her, Mizushima!”

She balks. “I think that’s a duty left to our beloved buchou.”

“The buchou delegates it down to vice-buchou.”

Mizushima shifts her eyes at Michi. “The vice-buchou delegates it down to the treasurer.”

“Um…the treasurer delegates it down to the secretary.”

Damn it. Since Sumiko never shows up, I’m acting secretary as well as buchou. There’s nobody left for me to delegate it to. From the way Mizushima smirks, I’ve been caught in another damn trap of hers.

“Fine,” I say. Both Mizushima and Michi clap for me, so I sigh and do a fake bow.

I get a feeling that this is far from over.

We pay for our meal and depart the restaurant, which is located in a plaza not too far from a train station. The bright lights of the city surround me like a kaleidoscope - green neon, red lanterns, white streetlamps, yellow lights up in the skyscrapers. I crane my neck backwards and look up - they say that from certain angles in San-Machi, you can see all the way up to Ichi-Machi, the first layer. I can only see up to the tall buildings on the second layer, along with the massive concrete foundations that rise out of San-Machi to support them.

Shikishima has parks and streams, but no countryside. I wonder what it would be like to see true darkness - the city’s lights never turn off, after all. I wonder what it would be like to see the rolling steppe or hills or desert or even a real forest. I wonder what it would be like to see the stars - the blinking red aircraft warning lights at the top of Shikishima’s towers form our constellations.

San-Machi is a bit like a planned equivalent of the former Kowloon Walled City. Houses and complexes and neighborhoods are all stacked atop each other like building blocks. In a way, Shikishima appears like a staircase for giants. We’re only on the third layer, but still high above the ocean.

We walk across a park that connects the roofs of several high-rises below our feet. While Michi goes to chase a cat, Mizushima and I approach the edge of the park, a steel railing separating us from the drop below. I rest my arms on the railing; the familiar salty scent of the sea drifts past me.

Out in the ocean, pleasure boats and freighters sail along the horizon, only their lights visible. This is closest I get to seeing the lights of distant cities. I wonder what it would be like to take the bullet train out of Tokyo at night, to cut through dark hills and mountains and tunnels, and then arrive at Osaka with its sea of lights approaching…

But everyone on the mainland must wonder what it would be like to live in a floating city too, right? There’s no edges to cities on the mainland - they morph into one another, outskirts and suburbs and villages. You can go as far as you like. But here, Shikishima has edges. There’s a definite end to it. But that’s not so bad.

I close my eyes and listen to the sounds of Shikishima’s people drifting from the plaza, from the streets. We’re all bound together on this island - we walk the same parks, eat at the same restaurants, listen to the same music, enjoy the same views of the sea. The paths of the millions living here regularly cross and intertwine - you’re always running into familiar faces. On this island, I’ll never feel lonely.

Michi comes back to us, out of breath. “I…chased the cat…but couldn’t catch him.”

“That’s alright,” I say, looking at my city. “He’s still here somewhere.”

Steward McOy